RIM's New BlackBerry 7 Smartphones Offer Old and New

RIM announced its new line of BlackBerry devices running BlackBerry 7 OS. Will these allow RIM to hold the line until 2012, when it releases its "superphones"?

Research In Motion has a plan for reversing its sagging fortunes in the smartphone space. Starting sometime in 2012, the Canadian company plans on producing a set of "superphones" with advanced hardware and a QNX-based operating system, more than capable of battling Apple's iPhone and the growing family of Google Android smartphones on their own terms.

Until that day, though, RIM is left producing BlackBerry smartphones that run some variant of its BlackBerry OS. On Aug. 3, the company announced a set of new devices running its new BlackBerry 7 OS: the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, the BlackBerry Torch 9810, and the BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 offer a 2.8-inch display with 640 x 480 resolution, 5-megapixel camera, integrated GPS and NFC (or near-field communication, which can turn your smartphone into a sort of electronic wallet) and 8GB of onboard memory expandable to 40GB. RIM claims these new Bold devices are its thinnest ever, although their overall design conforms to the standard BlackBerry "look."

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 is RIM's newest variant on its Torch line, which features a slide-out keyboard and a 3.2-inch touch display. That's in contrast to the Torch 9850/9860, which rely on a 3.7-inch touch-screen and lack a physical QWERTY keyboard-something that skews the aesthetics of RIM's device line towards its competitors, who have widely embraced the touch-screen-only model pioneered by Apple's iPhone. Whether or not customers gravitate toward RIM stepping so far outside its traditional comfort zone remains to be seen.

RIM claims the BlackBerry 7 OS offers faster browsing, smoother navigation, voice-activated universal search, and preinstalled apps such as the enhanced BlackBerry Messenger 6. Launched July 28, BBM 6 offers users the ability to chat within an app or game, as well as view lists of apps posted on BBM friends' profiles. The company has also been encouraging developers to build apps for its BlackBerry App World, which trails both Google and Apple in its number of offerings.

"RIM needs to focus on how to show why their enterprise-class capabilities are the way to go," Ray Wang, principal analyst of the Constellation Research Group, wrote in a July 28 email to eWEEK. The key to future success will be figuring out "how they can take a consumer innovation and make it enterprise class ... safe, secure, simple, sexy, sustainable, scalable."

At the end of May, for instance, research firm comScore estimated RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market at 24.7 percent, lagging behind Apple at 26.6 percent and Android at 38.1 percent. The company has faced recent criticism about its increasingly antiquated line of BlackBerry devices, something this newest line-available later in August-is obviously meant to help correct.

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